Priyank Kharge is not your average politician, one who gives you an hour-long speech about the policies they have implemented. So those of you who have heard him speak will know well that he has the ability to liven up the crowd with his humour and wit.
In an interaction with over 100 startups at the Your Story office, Kharge, Karnataka's IT and Tourism Minister, urged startups to connect with his department to make use of the several startup schemes released by his government. “We have to take pride in the state and Bengaluru,” he said. On a humorous note, he added that people keep tagging him on social media for every pothole or lake that is foaming. “Bengaluru has jams like New York City. But no one complains about New York, do they,” he asked the audience.
“Being a politician is riskier than being an entrepreneur. I have elections in under a year, and there is so much work to be done,” he says.
On a serious note, he said that his department has pushed the boundaries for helping startups.
He informed that over the next year or so, he wants the Yuva Yuga programme to train over 1,50,000 students and make them employable. The YY programme will use industry expertise to create curriculum that will enable engineers in Karnataka to stay up to date with global knowledge. The government is setting up a centre of excellence with a corpus of Rs 288 crore for such a purpose, for which it is working with Dassault Systems and a couple of other European companies. The centre of excellence will have its focus on cyber security, machine learning, and big data, he said.
The government is also trying to identify the 100 most innovative companies in Karnataka, and wants to help them not just with funding, but by way of idea validation, legal counseling, and industry connections.
“The government should make policies that can help create an ecosystem that excels, and Karnataka has an ambitious target of grooming 20,000 startups,” Kharge said.
While emphasising the importance of reskilling, Kharge stated that the state would ensure that corporates investing here had access to the best talent. He said the state had to be better prepared, as companies like Apple were coming to Bengaluru. The government is supporting high-end manufacturing where the entire product is made locally. “For this, we need to create an ecosystem for local manufacturing,” he said.
The minister listed the measures taken by his government to nurture the startup ecosystem in the state. These included mobilising Rs 2,000 crore under the startup policy, funding of close to 290 startups by way of POC grants of up to Rs 50 lakh, and the institution of a biotechnology fund.
Kharge emphasised how the government was supporting startups on every front. Recently, the state government conducted a competition for innovative ideas in tourism and how technology could be harnessed to make the tourism industry robust. The initiative attracted 127 startups from the tourism field, out of which 16 were picked for the final round. Finally, eight startups were chosen for funding based on the innovative solutions they brought to the table. These ranged from the application of AR/VR to AI aggregation of holiday sites to GIS-based audio tour systems. Kharge said his department had ample funds to support innovation in various sectors, including Rs 42 crore for biotechnology, Rs 2.5 crore for gaming, and Rs 10 crore for agriculture.
“Women entrepreneurs need support,” he said. Referring to the announcement on Woman’s Day which talked of creating a platform to help women get funding or grants, he said, "We are setting up a committee for this, and will make announcements soon.”
The minister also fielded a range of questions from the startups present during the interaction, including those on safety and mobility. He informed the audience that his government had allocated Rs 8,000 crore to the BBMP to make Bengaluru safer and cleaner. To ease traffic congestion on the city's roads, a new motor vehicle policy was being formulated to facilitate car sharing and pooling, he added.
“Policy is lagging behind technology, and that is the case globally. There needs to be amendments, but policy is always lagging behind,” he remarked.
He stated that the need of the hour was to bring solutions to rural regions. “We are more than happy to implement technology in public healthcare centres,” he said. He assured startups that he was always available for ventures and individuals with interesting ideas, and all they had to do was leave a request at his office.
Referring to small and medium businesses (SMB), he said, “We have a strong industrial policy for SMBs. We have single-window clearances for greenfield and brownfield clusters.”
The minister urged the members of the startup community to validate their ideas and approach his department to access various schemes announced by the government. “Karnataka is leading in helping startups, and has even surpassed the national plan to support startups,” he said.
The occasion also saw the minister, along with ICICI Bank, releasing the ‘Bengaluru Story’. Kharge remarked that the story of Bengaluru was one of culture and history. “This new platform must tell stories on aspects of Bengaluru that no one knows about. For example, the city is 480 years old, and has stories beyond technology,” he said.
A standing ovation and several hundred selfies later, the minister signed off by saying, “Let us take pride in the city and make Karnataka an industrial powerhouse together.”